You Don't Have to Be Rich: Comfort, Happiness, and Financial Security on Your Own Terms

Author:   Jean Chatzky
Publisher/Date:   Penguin Books / 2003
ISBN:   1-59184-012-0 (Hardback; 234 pgs plus index.)
Related Website:    Jean

We're beginning to see Jean Chatzky's face all over the place these days. The monthly columnist for Money and Time magazines, who also makes impromptu appearances on NBC's Today Show, seems to be picking up a bit of notoriety for her latest adventure:   an extensive survey of 1,505 adults, aged 18 and over, regarding their finances, their financial habits, and the level of "happiness" derived from both.

The goal of the survey, Chatzky writes, "...was to figure out, first, what influence money has over an individual's overall happiness; second, what habits, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge separate those people who are satisfied with their financial lives from those who are not; and third, what effect changing those habits, attitudes, and behaviors, and knowledge might have on a person's life."

The offspring of this survey is her 2003 book, You Don't Have to Be Rich. In a joint effort, Ms. Chatzky and the RoperASW organization apparently pored through the 1,500 surveys, gleaning whatever bits of financial data they could. With that information, they then constructed and offered some insights into the ways people treat, and react to, their money and their financial situations.

Here's a run-through of the table of contents, which gives a fair idea of what the book aims to cover:

  1. Sophie Tucker Was Wrong.
    Why being rich is not necessarily better.
  2. Enough is Enough.
    Wanting breeds ... more wanting. And it can be toxic. How to learn to be happy with what you have.
  3. Feng Shui Finance.
    If you're in control of your money, you're in control of your life. Here are the keys to control.
  4. What Do You Really Want?
    Setting financial goals that are meaningful for your life.
  5. Making It Happen.
    How to turn those goals into your reality.
  6. Living Within Your Means.
    It's impossible to save much — if anything — until you stop spending more than you make.
  7. Go With the "Flow."
    On-the-job happiness is an important piece of lifetime happiness. You can find it if you know where to look.
  8. It's Not Just About the Money.
    Taking the proper precautions for your family and loved ones makes you feel happier and more content. So does volunteering.
  9. Don't Dictate; Communicate.
    When does money breed the most unhappiness? When you're fighting about it. If you can learn to communicate — with your spouse, your kids, your parents — you can stop squabbling.
  10. The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness.
    Living by four — just four — of these commandments can be like earning an extra 50 percent a year.

If you've read much on this subject, you'll likely scan that chapter list and decide that it doesn't convey much thinking that is terribly original. You'd be pretty much on target. Here, for example, are her "Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness."

1. Thou shalt get "pretty" well organized.
2. Thou shalt pay bills as they come in rather than all at once.
3. Thou shalt Keep tabs on your cash.
4. Thou shalt save at least 5 percent of your household income.
5. Thou shalt protect your family (and yourself).
6. Thou shalt minimize credit card debt.
7. Thou shalt do unto others.
8. Thou shalt spend sensibly.
9. Thou shalt start working toward your goals.
10. Thou shalt communicate.
And one more:   Thou shalt try not to be consumed with a desire for more.

With the possible exception of #7 (she's talking about donating time and/or money to charitable causes) and #10 (involve your spouse and family in financial decisions), it's all very standard fare. And mentioning those two items is being generous. Authors have covered, recovered, and hardbound this stuff in a plethora of previous financial books. I must admit, however, that since this book is obviously written for a target audience that is likely fresh to the world of financial self-improvement, it could make for a good "starter" work in this arena. (What that means is that I probably would have found a lot more value in it when I was 23 or 25 years old.)

For everyone else, the largest redeeming factor here is the survey itself. Portions of it are spread throughout the book, along with the resultant statistics and conclusions drawn from respondents' answers. When the book focuses on the survey statistics and findings, it makes for an interesting and worthwhile read. (It's when Ms. Chatzky gets to the "how-to" parts that things start taking on water.) After all, the behavioral and psychological aspects of money have only recently been targeted for serious study. In this regard, the survey findings here are fascinating — so long as you're interested in such things as how people in your demographic group attempt to control their spending, deal with financial stresses, and so on.

If items such as those are your brain candy, then You Don't Have to Be Rich deserves a place on your shelves. Otherwise, its simplistic style and never-too-deep level of detail make it more suited for beginners in the School of Financial Self-Improvement.

Michael • January, 2004

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top ranking.
Was it an enjoyable read?
Could this work for me?
Could this apply to me?
price vs. content:
Is it worth the money?
Would I read it again?
Purchasing reviewed works via the links on this page supports IYM with a base referral fee, typically less than $5.

Please know that I appreciate your support (and your taking time to visit my site!) tremendously.

IYM Bestseller List

Curious about what IYM visitors are buying and reading?

Via, here are the five books most purchased by IYM readers in August, 2015:

  1. Total Money Makeover
    Dave Ramsey
  2. All Your Worth
    Elizabeth Warren & A. Tyagi
  3. How to Get Out of Debt,
    Stay Out of Debt,
    And Live Prosperously

    Jerrold Mundis
  4. Debt-Proof Living
    Mary Hunt
  5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
    Stephen R. Covey